Chicago Schools Announces Budget, But Union Pushes Back

(Photo: Youtube, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Youtube, Creative Commons)

Chicago Public Schools has announced a $5.4 billion operating budget with the assumption that the Chicago Teachers Union would go along with a contract that is very much like the one CTU rejected earlier in the year.

CTU President Karen Lewis responded quickly by saying that the district should know that the union is not going to accept a contract they refused in January, according to Juan Perez, Jr. and Marion Renault of the Chicago Tribune.

“Our bargaining team said no to (that offer), so I don’t know why they keep thinking that’s going to fly. If it didn’t fly in January, why would they think it (will) fly now?” Lewis said during a news conference at union headquarters.

CPS has also come up with various “management reforms and efficiencies” to present a balanced budget since the district faces a $300 million budget shortfall.

“Without absolute certainty on our labor costs, we have to make, and do make, rational assumptions,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said. “I think it’s fair to assume that the Chicago Teachers Union will understand that potential framework is still a fair framework to deal with.”

The contract proposal will phase out the historic district practice of paying the majority of teacher pension contributions and would raise union insurance premiums in exchange for several pay raises over a four-year period and the promise of no layoffs due to economic shortfalls.

Lewis said teachers would report to school on time, but warned that the union would not allow teachers to serve an entire year without a contract.

The district said the current budget is $232 million less than last year’s funding and covers a $300 million deficit that did not go away when the state passed its education funding initiatives in June.

Those measures allowed the school board to create a $250 million property tax increase for teacher pension payments and gave the district $131 million of new grant revenue.

Ted Cox and Alex Nitkin, reporting for DNA Info, say that Claypoole explained that the budget was “balanced without gimmicks or operational borrowing.” He added that now the district is on a path to fiscal stability. Lewis said the pledge was a lie. She continued by stating that the end of the district’s pension payment and requiring teachers to pay it could lead to a strike.

Lewis challenged, “We do not know if Mayor Emanuel can stand another teacher strike.”

In a statement, Claypool said he was confident that the legislature would do whatever is necessary to support CPS. He also said the district has plans to spend a minimum of $338 million for capital improvements such as modernization, repairs, and relief from overcrowding. When asked how the district would pay for these improvements, he said the district had no choice, write Stefano Esposito and Rosalind Rossi for the Chicago Sun-Times.

CPS announced last week that the district would lay off 508 teachers and 521 support staff members, but all teachers and staff can reapply for their positions in the district and will likely be rehired.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-majority legislature agreed to give $215 million on a one-time basis to CPS to go toward pension costs. In exchange, lawmakers must finalize a statewide pension reform package by January 2017. As of now, Illinois’ pensions are the lowest-funded pension systems in the nation, reveals Reuters.